Last week our family was hit by the flu. I was miraculously spared (knock wood!) but both the kids and my husband were sick. Once the kids were past the worst of it DH was still pretty miserable, so I thought I would try to speed him a bit along the path to recovery.
When DH was growing up, his mother would feed him somewhat sparingly when he was sick and feverish. Once the fever broke, she would make him his favorite dish, bhindi sabji (ie, a stir-fried okra dish) with rice which he would eat with relish. So, I figured that some mommy-style love would do him good and headed to the Indian grocery store in the hopes that they had some decently fresh okra!
Okra is one of those vegetables that gets a bad rap. With the exception of chicken gumbo, I'd never really had any okra that I enjoyed until I started cooking it Indian style. Unless it's prepared correctly, okra is in fact a gooey, slimy, mucilaginous mess. But if you do it right, okra can be incredibly delicious. I have several recipes for Indian-style okra that we enjoy, but on this occasion I made the recipe that I got directly from my mother-in-law. I'm going to share this recipe plus some tips for cooking it.
TIP 1: Pick good okra! Obvious, but important nonetheless. I usually find that the medium-sized pieces of okra are the best, about the size and width of my middle finger. Too small and they are sometimes underdeveloped--too big and they are sometimes overgrown and will be tough and fibrous. They should be an appealing color of green without a lot of brown streaks or spots. My local Indian grocery almost always has okra, but it may not be the freshest. I have learned that if I am not happy with the quality, I can ask if they have some in the back that is fresher. Invariably, they will happily break out a new box of nice fresh okra for me. (Try THAT at your local Kroger, lol!)
TIP 2: Wash the okra and make sure that it is very dry before cutting! This is the secret to preventing slime. You want the okra and the knife and cutting board very dry. If anything is even a little wet, things will start getting gooey.
There are a few methods for making sure the okra is dry after you wash it. If it's warm and sunny outside, you can put it in a single layer on a tray and it will get dry. You can also put a single layer on a tray in the oven on a very low heat to finish drying it. Both these methods are a little more time-consuming though, and I'm often in a bit of a hurry. So my own secret method is: I used a towel or paper towel to get the okra mostly-dry, and then I use a hair dryer!
I realize that this probably sounds silly, but it works! A couple of minutes with the hair dryer will get the remaining moisture out of the grooves of the okra and save a lot of heartache! I also just keep a paper towel handy as I am cutting the okra, so I can wipe off the little bit of residue that does tend to build up on the knife.
So here is the recipe:
MIL's Bhindi Sabji
Okra, about one pound.
1-2 Tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
1/2 Tbsp chana dal
1/2 Tbsp urad dal
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1/4 tsp. fenugreek
2 whole dried red chilis
1 tsp cumin seed
1/8 tsp turmeric
1/2 green chili, seeded and chopped (optional)
a few curry leaves (optional)
Cut okra into approximately 1/4 inch rounds, discarding stem end and tip.
In a large frying pan, heat ghee or oil on medium heat. When it is hot, add urad dal and chana dal and stir fry until they brown slightly. Add fenugreek and mustard seeds and fry until the mustard seeds begin to turn grey and pop, then add red chilis and cumin. Fry for a moment until the cumin seed becomes fragrant, then add okra. Cook, stirring, until okra is soft, adding a bit more ghee or oil if necessary to keep it from sticking. Add turmeric and salt and if desired, green chili. Add the curry leaves at the very end.
Serve with rice and a bowl of steaming hot dal, and perhaps a roti on the side if you're feeling particularly ambitious!